Robert Pattison

Crossbred wool prices maybe unacceptably low to crossbred sheep farmers, but wool buyers at auction are paying large premiums for good style, well prepared wool.

There is sale room competition for lines of good colour, vegetable matter free wool. Buyers are paying premiums of a dollar a kilogram clean. At the same time, there is less competition among buyers for lines of wool showing any sign of contamination from hay, twigs (moit) or thistle heads and skirtings. Prices are clearly discounted from 50 cents to a dollar/kg clean.

The market for second shear wool is also commanding premiums of 40 to 60 cents/kg clean for good colour, well prepared, vegetable matter free body wool.

There is less competition between buyers for good colour body wool contaminated with vegetable matter and skirtings.

With strong competition for good colour wool there are opportunities to significantly increase the overall value of a crossbred wool clip. That’s even with what farmers consider are unacceptably low wool prices.

With good stock and pasture management, avoiding contamination of fleeces from seed, thistle heads and hay on unshorn sheep, farmers can add hundreds if not thousands of dollars to their wool cheque.

In a three-stand woolshed, 150 to 180 sheep are shorn every two hours, or a shorn sheep pops out the porthole every 40 to 50 seconds, making a daily tally of 600-800 sheep/day from three shearers. That produces a total weight of 2500 to 3500kg of greasy wool a day.

Harvesting fleece wool that is good colour and free of skirtings and vegetable matter is worth $5000 to $8000 a day.

Harvesting lines of good colour wool contaminated with skirtings and faults such as shed stain, moit and thistle heads are discounted between 50 cents and a dollar per kg clean. The auction value will be $4500 to $6000, a market discount of between $500 and $2000.

That equates to $700 to $2500 per 1000 ewes shorn.

It seems with low wool prices and high lamb prices there is complacency about wool quality and clip preparation, and a reluctance to employ wool-handlers.

Most crossbred sheep clip between 4kg and 5kg greasy fleece weight. Shearers shear 50 to 60 sheep every two-hour run.

Wool-handlers can’t change what faults are in a wool clip – only farmers can do that.

In an eight-hour day the wool-handlers spend much of their time sorting and transporting wool from the shearers to fadges, bins and the wool press.

With only 40 to 50 seconds for each fleece there isn’t much time for quality control, so staffing and skill levels are critical.

In that time the wool-handlers frib belly wool, sweep short crutch wool from the shearing board, separate stains, dags and grade each fleece for style (quality), evenness of staple length, colour and faults, and skirt and remove moit, shed stain, stock marker and discoloured pieces to increase fleece value. That’s why it’s important to avoid or minimise the number of faults acquired in the paddock before shearing.

With good planning and organisation, along with clear instructions, wool-handlers can add value of 70 cents to $2.50 per fleece or 15 to 50 cents/kg clean.

While the wool market at auction is paying for good colour well prepared crossbred wool, it means wool-handlers can add $400 to $2000 to a wool clip during a full day’s shearing of 600 to 800 sheep. For a 50-bale wool clip, or 2000 ewes, that amounts to an added value of $1300-$5000, or the value of 10 to 30 lambs. There’s no doubt that sheep farmers would be questioning their ewe management if they lost that many lambs per thousand ewes.

Skirting yellow fribs and water-stained wool from bellies and pieces will also improve the value of good colour bellies and pieces by 30 to 70 cents /kg clean.

Why not make use of the valuable skills and knowledge that certified wool-handlers and pressers have?

The key to getting a quality job is to focus on the things that they can manage and control in the short period of time they have to handle each fleece.

Asking them to perform too many tasks in the time they have available will result in a poorly prepared wool clip that will lower the overall value rather than add value. There is also the increased risk of incorrect documentation such as missed or double bale numbers and incorrect bale descriptions.

For farmers with good quality crossbred wool, employing good wool-handlers and pressers at $240/day maybe a good investment. Throwing good colour fleeces in the press unskirted, and failing to remove yellow discoloured off-type fleeces, could be costing crossbred farmer’s $2000 for every days shearing.

  • Robert Pattison is a former carpet mill assistant manager, Wool Board regional officer, wool classer and consultant.